Colorado

Supporters of DPS administration claim victory in board races

11:35 p.m.: And that’s a wrap, folks. As the allies of the current DPS administration celebrate their victory, we’re heading to bed. Check back tomorrow for more coverage of the election and what it means for the future of the school district. And thanks for following along with us.

9:45 p.m.: While servers and bartenders, dressed in all black, counted their tips and closed out the remaining tickets of the night at a Middle Eastern restaurant on East Colfax, Roger Kilgore, the animatronic engineer with a soft spot for kids, considered what went wrong with his campaign for a seat on the Denver Public School board.

Roger Kilgore, left, speaks with supporters after losing his race for the Denver Public School Board.
Roger Kilgore, left, speaks with supporters after losing his race for the Denver Public School Board.

“Maybe if I was more flamboyant?” he asked rhetorically.

Kilgore lost his race to incumbent Landri Taylor by more than 5,000 votes.

Taylor was appointed to the board earlier this year. This is the first time he won his seat outright.

“I thought it was possible,” Kilgore said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to read the tea leaves.”

Kilgore was outspent handily by Taylor, who ran unofficially with a slate of candidates who support so called accountability-reform practices including school choice, data-driven decisions and teacher accountability.

Kilgore, who was himself supported by the teachers union, wondered what Taylor had that he didn’t. More money? More endorsements? More name recognition? A tighter political network? Maybe all of the above?

Maybe none of that mattered.

Voters Nic spoke with this morning in northeast Denver had a hard time identifying either candidate by name.

Kilgore said he’s not going to spend too much time worrying. But he hopes the board, which will now have a 6-1 super majority that supports the reform effort, will work in earnest to achieve some of the goals he laid out, including improving neighborhood schools and scrutinizing the bond and mill levy voters approved last year.

“But I doubt it.”

As for Kilgore, he’ll continue to serve on the various volunteer DPS committees that led him to run for the board, this year and last. He hasn’t made up his mind on whether he’ll run again. That’s a few years away, he said.

9:30 p.m.: As her victory party wound down at The Polish Club on W. Alameda, Rodriguez said she was “delighted and honored to be the choice of my district.”

Asked about the sometimes fractious dynamic on the current board, she said, “I’m committed to serve the way that I always have, with respect and dignity and I imagine that most of the board will want to operate in the same manner. We have a great opportunity.”

8:54 p.m.: Kiley stood up in front of his supporters and said, “We’re going to wait and see what happens at 10 before we do anything official.”

After thanking his supporters, he says that he is “going to remain an active community leader in our neighborhood schools” and said he will hold the district leaders to the same high standards that they hold students and teachers.

Then he led his supporters in a chant, in Spanish, of “together, we have the power.”

8:45 p.m.: Gene Lucero, a Kiley supporter who donated office space for the campaign’s headquarters, said of the board winners, “I just hope that they are open to the kinds of ideas that the group that is not winning were espousing.” He tells Ann that he’s worried that the new board, which looks at this point that it will have six out of seven members supportive of Boasberg’s policies, will be too homogenous. “It ends up becoming a yes, yes, yes type of thing,” he said.

8:35 p.m.: One of Kiley’s supporters just entered the party wiping away a tear, Ann reports. “There’s no crying in politics,” Kiley said with a laugh.

8:33 p.m.: Ann has moved on to the party for at-large candidate Michael Kiley, who is currently losing to O’Brien by about 2 to 1. Kiley says that the results are “not what we hoped,” but he’s not conceding yet, Ann reports.

“I was getting outspent six to one,” Kiley said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge.”

8:02 p.m.: Nic also spotted DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg in the crowd at the party for O’Brien, Taylor and Johnson. This election was frequently cited as a referendum on the policies that Boasberg and his predecessor, former superintendent and current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, put in place. Boasberg tells Nic that he’s excited to work with “exceptional leaders.”

8:00 p.m.: O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor wouldn’t commit to what their first priorities would be upon taking office, but they all agreed that board culture has to change in order to accelerate the rates of growth in student achievement.

O’Brien says the claims that the election was bought, or that the victory of candidates who support the current administration is part of a “nationwide conspiracy” is “hooey.”

“I’ve spent my entire career advocating for vulnerable children,” O’Brien told Nic. “I can’t be bought.”

7:58 p.m.: Reporting from the party for O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor, Nic says that the crowd is overcome with excitement and relief. Mayor Michael Hancock stopped by to congratulate the candidates, who all appear to be winning at this point in the evening.

7:55 p.m.: Poston, who joined Schomp at Angelo’s Taverna on 6th Ave., said she was glad she ran for the board and said she brought “authenticity” and “a true voice” to the race.

Poston, who spent $350 on her race, was critical of the winners, saying, “When it takes that kind of money to get into office, you basically bought the office. I don’t think that’s what our founding fathers intended.”

7:51 p.m.: Schomp tells our reporter Ann that she’d like to have the results look better, but “until we finally see some more numbers, I’m not going to get too worked up.”

Schomp also notes that her opponent outspent her by a rate of about 5 to 1. (See our coverage of the latest campaign finance filings.) “I find it obscene that we have $1 million going into this election,” she said. She also said that if it turns out that she has more time, she wants to make sure that elections can’t be bought with outside money.

“I’m just running on fuel at this point,” she said. “And this whole room of people who have worked so hard.”

7:35 p.m.: And here’s at-large candidate Barbara O’Brien with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.35.29 PM

7:28 p.m.: Overheard at Meg Schomp’s party: “This election just got bought.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.23.56 PM7:26 p.m.: Here’s Michael Johnson, running for the central Denver board seat, reviewing the first numbers as they arrive.

7:20 p.m.: At Meg Schomp’s gathering, as television reports show the candidate behind, there’s a soft groan from supporters. Schomp says, “I just want you to know, those aren’t all the votes.”

7:18 p.m.: Spotted at the Irish Snug party for candidates who have broadly supported the current Denver administration’s brand of reform: Sonia Semion of Stand for Children. She says the next step is to go to work to hold the board accountable and move them “in the right direction.”

7:09 p.m: Ten minutes after the polls have closed, Debra Adair of Brighton tells Ann that she’s at Schomp’s party because her daughter attends the Denver Green School with Schomp’s son. Adair campaigned for Schomp although she couldn’t vote for her. One aspect of Schomp’s agenda that Adair says she supports is “getting community engagement before schools make decisions.”

IMG9512987:01 p.m.: Here’s central Denver candidate Meg Schomp greeting a supporter.

6:58 p.m. Our reporter Nic Garcia has just arrived at the Irish Snug, where at-large candidate Barbara O’Brien, northeast Denver candidate Landri Taylor and central Denver candidate Michael Johnson are all convening. Also spotted at the event so far, Nic reports: Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

6:50 p.m.: Polls don’t close for another 10 minutes, but candidates’ parties are already starting. Our reporter Ann Schimke says that Meg Schomp is about to arrive at her gathering in central Denver. About 20 people have already arrived, including outgoing DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan.

UPDATE at 4:43 p.m.: Voters this morning shared their perspectives on Amendment 66 and the Denver school board race. Voters, in opposite corners of Denver, were almost as split in their support of the tax increase as they were in distance. They did agree on one thing: they didn’t know enough about DPS candidates to make an informed decision.

Ask any candidate for Denver Public School’s board of directors and they’ll tell you what Mile High voters want for their schools. More often than not, it sounds a lot like the respective candidate’s platform for the urban school district.

But Denver’s electorate will have the final say today when voters cast their decisions on four contests.

The outcome is likely to have far reaching consequences locally, across the state and nation.

That’s because Denver’s school district has become a leader in the national accountability-based reform movement. The school board races here have attracted big dollar donations to see to it that the reforms intensify, not retreat.

But the net result of school choice, charter schools, teacher accountability, high-stakes testing and data-driven strategies — the tenets of the reform movement — are mixed at best.

And detractors of the reforms — who have secured support from the teachers union — believe the strategy is depriving the most marginalized Denverites and their children comprehensive neighborhood schools, whittling the humanities from the classroom and creating a hostile work environment for educators.

But proponents of reform, which started nearly a decade ago, maintain DPS has never been better.

The current board majority routinely favors the often-called free market reforms. They hold a one vote majority, 4-3.

After the results of today’s election are counted, the board could have a super majority of reform backers, flip entirely or maintain the fractious culture, which according to board watchers, has left the district in the weeds of litmus tests and alliances.

Nine candidates have duked it out this fall. The campaigns, from start to finish, have largely focused on school choice, community engagement and board culture, the implementation of a bond and mill levy, accountability and Amendment 66, which voters will also decide on Tuesday.

As the campaigns waned, questions regarding conflicts of interests have also been raised and swatted away.

Candidates generally supporting the school district’s course are former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, Mike Johnson and incumbent Landri Taylor. (Taylor, the only incumbent, was appointed to his seat earlier this year.)

Candidates generally opposing the course charted for DPS are Michael Kiley, Rosario C de Baca, Meg Schomp and Roger Kilgore.

Joan Poston, a candidate for the at-large seat, falls into neither camp.

AT-LARGE

Three candidates are vying for the at-large seat: Barbara O’Brien, Michael Kiley and Joan Poston.

O’Brien has made a career in the education sector, most recently as the head of Get Smart Schools, a nonprofit that trains school leaders. As lieutenant governor, O’Brien had a strong hand in education policy at the state level.

“This race has been a reminder of how much Denver loves its schools,” O’Brien told EdNews in between knocking on doors.

She said the race, which she believes started off on a contentious tone, brought the candidates and community together.

“All of us heard the same feedback: the division between neighborhood schools and charter schools isn’t real,” she said.

The question now is how do we make all schools excellent and provide parents with quality choices, she said.

But O’Brien’s chief opponent, Kiley, believes more needs to be done to support traditional schools that serve Denver’s neighborhoods. And that support begins with the surrounding community, he said.

“Schools have better success if the neighborhoods are behind it,” he said while knocking on doors near Sloan’s Lake. “We also need to streamline the budget process to get more money to our schools.”

Kiley has been active in the district, most notably in the northwest. Kiley was an active participant in the turnaround of Skinner Middle School in 2008 and, in 2012, began similar work at North High School.

Poston joined the race after becoming frustrated with the board’s culture. On Monday, Poston told EdNews that she expected a likely third place finish.

SOUTHWEST DISTRICT 2

Rosemary Rodriguez has long been a public servant in Denver. She’s been the county’s clerk and recorder and was elected to a seat on City Council in 2003.

Recovering from knee surgery, Rodriguez has spent most of her time engaging with voters over the phone. They’ve been telling her they want more — and better — choices in schools to send their children to.

“I thought people would want to talk about how underserved my district is,” she said.

Rodriguez, who has worked for former DPS Superintendent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the chief architect of Denver’s reform efforts, has taken the strongest position on school reform and has not blinked publicly at the thought of closing failing schools, something her opponent, Rosario C de Baca, disagrees with just as passionately.

“For a lot of people, this election is about getting a better grip with our neighborhood schools,” C de Baca said while fielding phone calls from voters. She handed out her personal cell phone in previous canvassing efforts.

C de Baca, who has served on a variety of boards and community organizations including the Gifted Education Advisory Committee, said after being elected she hopes she can lead the board to less stigmatizing evaluations of students and teachers.

“It’s so easy to judge children from low income homes,” she said. “But it’s hurtful to the students and the schools to deem them as failing.”

CENTRAL DISTRICT 3

Arguably the most important person in the 2013 board race isn’t a candidate but DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg has been used a symbol both for and against the reform efforts he and his predecessor, Bennet, have implemented.

And the current board has given Boasberg a pass, said candidate Meg Schomp, one she’s not likely to extend.

“We are not going in the right direction,” she said Monday during a lunch break canvassing her neighborhood near George Washington High School.

Schomp, throughout the campaign, has demonstrated the kind of scrutiny she’ll focus on Boasberg if elected by raising concerns about the achievement gap, budget and a 2012 bond and mill levy voters approved.

Her opponent, Mike Johnson was a principal supporter of the both ballot questions, 3A and 3B, and served as counsel for the bond until he decided to run for the board position.

While Johnson believes DPS is headed in the right direction, he laughed off the notion he’d be roll over for Boasberg.

“Tom Boasberg works for the board,” he told EdNews from his car while walking a neighborhood. “The board does not work for Tom Boasberg.”

NORTHEAST DISTRICT 4

Appointed to the board earlier this year, Landri Taylor is ready to take a leadership role in developing — and selling — a “culture of excellence” at DPS once he is elected to his seat outright.

“It’s one thing to have a vision, and another to sell a vision. And there is no one who is a better salesman then me,”  said Taylor, the CEO of Denver’s Urban League.

For that to happen, however, DPS needs to recruit and invest in the best principals who can build upon and replicate the success the district has seen, Taylor said.

Taylor’s opponent, Roger Kilgore, has his own idea of what the culture of DPS should like — one based on comprehensive schools in every neighborhood.

“My opponent has a philosophy of bringing the free market to public education; I want a network of strong neighborhood schools,” Kilgore said. “We’re close on the ends, we both want good schools, but were furthest on the means.”

Tuesday, taking personal time from their day jobs, both Kilgore and Taylor are chasing ballots in hopes of representing DPS’s largest and most diverse district.

“The job for the voters is to determine which path to take,” Kilgore said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Landri Taylor’s election day canvassing. 

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.